Want to know as much about Chanel as we do? To help you become an expert, we have written a comprehensive Chanel brand guide for you.
It starts by recounting Chanel history, giving the juicy details of Coco Chanel’s personal life, summarizing Karl Lagerfeld’s 36 years as creative director, and introducing Virginie Viard as its newest leader. From there, it describes the house’s most fundamental symbols (like the ‘CC’ logo) and designs (among them, the tweed suit and Flap Bag), which were created by Coco and have been re-imagined in every collection since her death. To finish, it offers insider authenticity information, so you will be able to distinguish a fake Chanel from an original.
Continue reading to learn everything about one of fashion’s leading luxury labels.
Photo by Christian Vierig/Getty Images
Photo by Christian Vierig/Getty Images
Born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel on August 19, 1883, in Saumur, France, the now-legendary designer came from very humble beginnings. She was one of six children (though, one of her brothers sadly died as an infant) to Albert Chanel and Eugénie Jeanne Devolle. Her father worked as a street peddler and her mother was a peasant. As the lives of the poor were not well-documented at the time, not much else is known about Chanel’s early years.
At the age of 12, when her mother died of tuberculosis, her father sent her two brothers to work on a farm and Chanel and her two sisters to live in a convent-run orphanage in Aubazine. It was here that she learned how to sew and formed her future design aesthetic (the stark black and white of the nuns’ habits, specifically, served as a major source of inspiration for her).
When Chanel turned 18, she left the orphanage for Moulins, working as a seamstress and cabaret singer to financially support herself. While she was not a particularly gifted vocalist, she was known for performing “Ko Ko Ri Ko” and “Qui qu’a vu Coco dans l’Trocadéro?”. The crowd would request an encore by shouting, “Coco! Coco!”, giving her the now-famous nickname (she preferred to tell people that her father called her this as a child).
Photo by Courtesy of Lipnitzki and Roger Viollet 1936, From Harper's Bazaar official website
While she was singing in Moulins, a military station, Coco met Étienne Balsan. At the time, he was serving as an officer, but he was also heir to a textile empire. To better pass the time as his mistress, he helped Coco become a licensed milliner and funded her first shop, which exclusively sold hats. Called Chanel Modes, it opened on 21 Rue Cambon in 1910. Coco caught her first lucky break when Gabrielle Dorziat, a famous French actress, became a fan of her hats and made them a must-have accessory for those in the Parisian upper class.
Étienne Balsan, who was also a racehorse owner, introduced Coco to his friend Arthur “Boy” Capel. They immediately started dating, continuing their relationship even after he married. A prominent polo player, Capel financed the opening of two more boutiques in Deauville and Biarritz and influenced what would become the ‘Chanel look’ of androgynous silhouettes and stable-inspired detailing. Coco designed the first pair of pants for women, for example, so she could more comfortably (rather than side saddle in a skirt) ride a horse. Around Christmas in 1919, Boy Capel died in a car accident on his way to see Coco. The great love of her life, she reportedly cried for the first and last time at his funeral. Coco is quoted as saying, “Either I die as well, or I finish what we started together.”
Known for using men to finance her ventures and preserve her independence, Coco had many other storied affairs following Capel’s death. In 1920, she had a brief fling with Igor Stravinsky. A composer who had just reworked his The Rite of Spring, Coco frequented its new staging for the ballet in Paris. Shortly after, she began a decade-long relationship with Hugh Grosvenor, the second Duke of Westminster. However, when he proposed to her, she declined, later declaring, “There are lots of Duchesses, but only one Coco Chanel.” Heartbroken by her rejection, the Duke had her initials (the house’s ‘CC’ logo) carved into every lamppost in Westminster.
At the onset of WWII, Coco engaged in a tryst that would lead to the closure of her shops and the abrupt end – albeit, temporarily – of her fashion career.
Coco Chanel and her lover, Captain Arthur Edward "Boy" Capel in 1971, Photo by Jean Moral and Brigitte Moral
Though Coco’s atelier at Rue Cambon had a private residence above it, she did not sleep there (the extravagant apartment, which housed all her luxurious trinkets, famously lacked a bedroom). Coco instead slept just across the street at the Hotel Ritz, walking over every day to design and oversee fittings.
When the German military occupied Paris, it established its headquarters at the Ritz. Due to her dalliance with Hans Gunther von Dincklage, a Nazi military officer and right-hand man to Hitler, Coco received special permission to stay in her room at the hotel.
Simply consorting with the German force was considered treason but, on top of that, Coco was accused of collaborating with them. Following her death, classified documents that detail her role as a spy for Abwehr, a Nazi Intelligence Agency, emerged (her alleged codename was Westminster). Though Coco was implicated, she was never officially charged. Many suspect this is due to her friendship with Winston Churchill, who she became acquainted with through the Duke of Westminster.
In 1939, Coco closed her shops, which were already suffering from the economic depression. Regarded as a traitor and no longer in the good graces of the French, she was exiled to Switzerland.
Coco Chanel, Photo by Francois Kollar, from Chanel official website
After 15 years, Coco returned to Paris to revive her fashion house. She credited its re-opening to boredom; however, bitterly competitive, it is rumored that she staged her comeback because other designers were undoing all her hard work, overdressing women to the taste of men. Coco was especially appalled by Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’, which exaggerated women’s features with cinched waists and padded shoulders and bras. She disparaged, “Dior does not dress women, he upholsters them.”
On February 5, 1954, Coco (at 71 years old) showed her first collection since the war. While it was met with scathing reviews from the French fashion community, which was still unforgiving of her wartime liaison, the American press and, most importantly, the shoppers approved.
Photo by LIFE Magazine's Archives, from Pinterest
Chanel was known for her, often controversial, adages. Perhaps her most famous words ever spoken, were her last. Following a walk with Claude Baillen, a close friend, she returned to her room at the Hotel Ritz. Before Coco passed, she remarked to her maid, “You see, this is how you die.”
At the time of her death, on January 10, 1971, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was 88 years old. Though many thought she was much younger, as she often lied about her age (not because she wanted to be perceived that way, but because she was born illegitimate and her parents were not married until one year after). Coco’s final collection, which she was still working on, would debut just a few weeks later.
Coco Chanel’s funeral, which took place at L’église de la Madeleine in Paris, was attended by thousands of mourners (among them, Chanel models, who wore her famous tweed suits and sat in the front row). The founder of Chanel was laid to rest in Lausanne, Switzerland, beneath a tombstone she designed herself, the ‘CC’ logo, and camellia flowers.
Photo by Revista Mia, from Factinate
Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
Everyone knows of Karl Lagerfeld. If not because of his tenures at leading brands, iconic designs, over the top runways, or unsavory remarks, then definitely because of his trademark look. Lagerfeld wore his hair in a low, neat, and powdered ponytail. He dressed in high, stiff-collared Hilditch & Key shirts, which he accessorized with dark sunglasses, fingerless gloves, tons of rings, and an often-carried Japanese fan. But, the man behind this iconic appearance was, most notably, behind fashion’s most iconic house. He once famously stated that he was trying to make sure he would not be remembered; however, after serving as the creative director at Chanel for 36 years, it is certain that Karl Lagerfeld will never be forgotten.
V magazine official website, Photo by Hedi Slimane
Born Karl Otto Lagerfelt (he changed the spelling of his last name when he moved to Paris) on September 10, 1933, in Hamburg, Germany, he was one of three children to a Swedish mother and German father. Growing up, Lagerfeld cut photos of dresses and accessories out of magazines, collecting hundreds of them and using them to dress paper dolls. His mother took him to his first fashion show, a Christian Dior show in Hamburg, when he was 16 years old. Just three years later, in 1952, she moved with him to Paris, so he could pursue a career as a fashion designer.
Karl Lagerfeld enrolled in fashion school at the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale, but dropped out after less than a year to work as an assistant for Pierre Balmain. He was offered the position after he entered a competition sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat in 1954. The competition was judged by prominent French couture designers, who agreed to produce the winning sketches. For his yellow wool coat with a deep V neckline in the back, Lagerfeld received first prize in the coat category. At just 21 years old, Lagerfeld was one of the youngest contestants to ever win the competition (aside from Yves Saint Laurent, his bitter rival, who was 16 years old when he won the dress category the same year).
Three years later, Lagerfeld was hired as a designer at Jean Patou. After five years, and collections that were unfavorably received by reviewers, he decided to leave Patou and Paris to study art history in Italy. In 1964, he began freelancing for Chloé, where he was eventually promoted to creative director and remained until 1983 (he later returned from 1992 through 1997). One year after, in 1965, Lagerfeld was hired by Fendi to revitalize its fur collection, which he successfully did by dyeing them bright colors and even shredding some. He became Fendi’s creative director and remained at the house until his death, designing for the Fendi Five for 54 years.
During this time, Karl Lagerfeld established himself as a daring fashion designer. He did not have a specific style to his name, but he could inject his own aesthetic into any heritage brand. (Though, he went on to start his own eponymous label in 1984.)
International Woolmark Prize
Twelve years after Coco’s death, the Chanel brand was becoming stale and struggling to maintain relevance. Seeking someone to modernize it designs while also respecting its 70-year legacy, Chanel enlisted Karl Lagerfeld as its creative director in 1983.
At first, Lagerfeld was not well received. In his debut collection, that year’s Haute Couture, he chose to celebrate Coco’s creations from the ‘20s and ‘30s rather than her comeback designs, resulting in harsh critiques that he committed “too many Chanel Don’ts and not enough Do’s.” Not to mention, to the disapproval of Chanel staffers, he brought his own team along with him (Hervé Leger, his previous assistant, to help with ready-to-wear and Mercedes Robirosa, a former model, to manage the press office). Karl Lagerfeld was widely considered a German, RTW outsider in a French, couture world.
Proving that he could transform Chanel’s archived signatures according to ever-changing trends, Lagerfeld eventually overcame all judgements and was deferentially referred to as Kaiser Karl.
Aside from evoking Coco’s designs with an enduring sense of style, rendering them classics, Lagerfeld was also celebrated for turning runway shows into theatrical presentations. Every season, Grand Palais was a complete spectacle. With elaborate set designs, Lagerfeld transformed the space into a grocery store complete with ‘CC’ branded products (for Fall/Winter 2014), a casino complete with Julianne Moore and Kristen Stewart at a poker table (for Fall/Winter 2015 Haute Couture), an airport terminal complete with ticket counters (for Spring/Summer 2016), a space station complete with a finale rocket launch (for Fall/Winter 2017), a cliff top complete with waterfalls (for Spring/Summer 2018), and a beach complete with lapping waves (for Spring/Summer 2019). Every December (since 2002), Lagerfeld took his extravagant runways beyond the Palais and around the world, showcasing Chanel’s artisan partners (11 specialists that the house acquired under Lagerfeld). Known as Métiers d’Art, Lagerfeld staged a rodeo in Dallas (in 2014) and a shipyard in Moscow (in 2017).
Completely throwing himself into his work, Karl Lagerfeld never married (similar to his predecessor). He justified, “I never fall in love. I think it’s much more important to love your work.” Though, he was never alone. Lagerfeld was always surrounded by an entourage, namely his Chanel muses, of the most in-demand models, actresses, and musicians. Over the years, it included the likes of Claudia Schiffer, Cara Delevingne, Lily-Rose Depp, and Nicole Kidman. He also had a loyal companion in his blue-cream tortie Birman cat Choupette. Gifted to him by Baptiste Giabiconi in 2013, Lagerfeld famously lavished Choupette with a personal maid, a four-piece silver table setting at every meal, and private jet rides. He even declared that he would marry her…if only it were legal.
Outside of fashion, Lagerfeld also had many personal passions. He became an avid photographer, shooting Chanel’s campaigns himself from 1987 onwards.
At 85 years old, Karl Lagerfeld was still designing for Chanel (and Fendi); he called them his “lifetime contracts”. But, when he did not take his customary bow at the end of the Spring/Summer 2019 Haute Couture show (Virginie Viard, his closest collaborator and Chanel’s fashion director, did instead), there was widespread worry over his health.
After 180 shows for Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld passed away on February 19, 2019. His final collection, for Fall/Winter 2019, showed just a few weeks later. It was reported that he knew he was dying when he planned the show with Viard. It was set to look like a ski resort in the Alps, high and beyond the clouds as a sort of Chanel heaven. The models walked a runway covered in snow and lined with Swiss chalets, entering to a voiceover of Lagerfeld from a recent podcast and closing to Bowie’s Heroes. Each seat featured a sketch, drawn by Lagerfeld, of him and Coco walking hand-in-hand with The Beat Goes On scrawled at the bottom.
Following his death, Chanel released its sales figures for the first time ever. With Karl Lagerfeld at the house’s helm, it had amassed a yearly revenue of $10 billion.
Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
After Karl Lagerfeld passed, there was much discussion over who would succeed him as creative director at Chanel. Though many speculated a prominent designer would assume the coveted role, poached from another leading luxury label (similar to Hedi Slimane’s move from Saint Laurent to Celine and Riccardo Tisci’s from Givenchy to Burberry), Chanel instead decided to promote from within. Virginie Viard, who has been at Chanel for nearly three decades, was appointed as Lagerfeld’s replacement. Though Viard was his most trusted collaborator and had considerable influence over his collections, she has (until now) remained very behind the scenes as a designer. Knowing little about Viard, many questioned whether she is capable of maintaining Chanel’s superbrand status. Chosen because she knows the DNA of the house and can be trusted to continue both Coco’s and Karl’s legacies, Virginie Viard has quickly proven that she can bring fresh perspective to Chanel’s time-honored codes.
Photo by WWD official website
Born in 1962, Virginie Viard grew up in Lyon, France. Introduced to fashion by her grandparents, who were silk manufacturers, she always wanted to be a costume designer. Viard studied theater design at the Cours George and later assisted Dominique Borg, who crafted costumes for, most notably, Camille Claudel.
On the recommendation of the chamberlain of Prince Rainier of Monaco, Virginie Viard was hired at Chanel. She started as an intern for haute couture embroidery in 1987 (just four years after Karl Lagerfeld was brought on as creative director). Having developed a close working and personal relationship with Lagerfeld, Viard accompanied him when he returned to Chloé in 1992. After he ended his second stint there, in 1997, she resumed work at Chanel as its coordinator of haute couture. By 2000, she was named the director of Chanel’s creation studio, overseeing its haute couture, ready-to-wear, and accessories.
Virginie Viard worked very closely with Lagerfeld on Chanel’s 10 yearly collections, interpreting his sketches, coordinating with the ateliers, choosing fabrics, and attending fittings. They were together every day and, if not, they constantly spoke over the phone. Lagerfeld emphasized, “She is my right arm and my left arm.”
There is no doubt that Virginie Viard had some pretty large (very influential and highly acclaimed) shoes to fill at Chanel. From her first collection, Resort 2020, all eyes have been on her, eagerly anticipating her vision for the brand. At first, her designs were more defined by the absence of Lagerfeld than anything else, but with some time past, Virginie has truly made Chanel her own.
In contrast to Lagerfeld, both her runways and her clothing have a much lighter touch. Her shows have been far less grand, opting for simple sets that evoke a direct connection to Coco’s past and the house’s symbols (re-creating the Rue Cambon studio for Métiers d’Art 2019/2020, the garden at the abbey in Aubazine for Spring/Summer Haute Couture 2020, and the lines of a camellia flower for Fall/Winter 2020). To compensate for a lack of flash and excess (the Instagrammable moments Lagerfeld was famous for delivering), Viard has focused on creative styling (particularly in Fall/Winter 2020, when she paired snap-away joggers with equestrian-inspired boots, miniskirts with calf-length coats, and hot shorts with ‘CC’ logo tights). Her pieces, much like Coco’s, are casual, unpretentious, and wearable (though, they are still priced up to the thousands). The first female to head the house since Coco herself, Virginie Viard brings a feminine energy – a soft elegance – back. She explains, “Romanticism, but without any flourishes. Emotions, but without any frills.”
AnOther, Courtesy of Chanel
Photo by Christian Vierig/Getty Images
Coco Chanel was extremely superstitious. Keeping herself surrounded by talismans for both protection and prosperity, they became a source of inspiration for her and were eventually incorporated into her designs. Among them: the ‘CC’ logo, Chanel’s original address, camellias, lions, and the number five. Since Coco’s death, Karl Lagerfeld and Virginie Viard have continued to use them, transforming them into recurrent and recognizable Chanel motifs.
First featured on the Chanel No. 5 bottle in 1924, Chanel’s reversed and interlocking ‘Cs’ have since become one of the most recognized logos. Though almost everyone knows which fashion house the ‘CC’ logo belongs to, not many can agree on what inspired its creation. Today, there are four prevailing theories. While some think that the logo is original to Chanel, others suspect it was borrowed from some of Coco’s influences at the time.
Most obviously, many assume the two ‘Cs’ represent the founder’s name. Though, Coco was just a nickname and her initials were G.C. (for her real name, Gabrielle Chanel).
Some believe that while one of the ‘Cs’ does stand for Chanel, the other actually stands for Capel. Arthur “Boy” Capel, the muse behind Coco’s androgynous designs, was widely considered to be the one true love of her life. Even after his marriage, Chanel and Capel continued their relationship, and following his death in 1919, Coco openly mourned him. Joining their last names, the logo is thought to forever unite them (symbolically instead of matrimonially).
Others suspect that Chanel’s ‘CC’ logo was lifted from a pattern used by the French Queen Claude and Catherine de Medici, who had just married into the family and become her daughter-in-law.
Most commonly, many conceive that Coco borrowed the logo from the Château de Crémat. A castle in Nice, France, she often attended parties, hosted by her friend Irene Bretz, there. The Château de Crémat, which is still open to visitors today, has vaulted arches that are decorated with stained glass windows. Among a mixture of geometric designs, the pattern in these windows also includes the intertwined ‘Cs’ we associate with Chanel today. The house itself cites the Château de Crémat as its logo’s most likely source.
No matter where the ‘CC’ design originated from, there is no doubt that Chanel has made it famous. Over the seasons, Chanel has featured its ‘CC’ emblem on everything from brooches and earrings to swimsuits and sneakers.
Official logo of Chanel, Photo from Pinterest
Rue Cambon is a street named after a famous French revolutionary, whose father was a fabric manufacturer. Located right in the heart of Paris, it is close to Place Vendôme and Rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré, forming the city’s luxury fashion district.
In 1910, Coco opened Chanel Modes, her hat shop, at 21 Rue Cambon. Due to her quick success, she expanded within just eight years, acquiring the entire building, changing Chanel’s flagship address to number 31, and adapting the larger premises to fit her needs. The ground floor operated as a boutique, selling Chanel’s hats and later its fragrances, jewelry, and clothing. With a large reception area, the first floor served as a viewing room for fittings and presentations. A grand staircase lined with mirrors (these allowed Coco to covertly, from her favorite seat on the fifth step, see peoples’ reactions to her collections) led to her private residence on the second floor. Her apartment housed all her most cherished treasures; though, it was missing a bedroom (as she never slept there) and doors (she feared being alone and hoped her guests would forget to leave). This space is still decorated in Coco’s style but is only used for important interviews and photo shoots. Nestled just under the roof beams, on the third and top floor, there was a series of studios. With Coco’s “Mademoiselle – Prive” sign still on the door, Karl Lagerfeld assumed one as his office. Today, Virginie Viard continues to design from here.
By 1927, Coco owned five buildings on Rue Cambon – further establishing it as Chanel headquarters.
In commemoration of Chanel’s earliest beginnings, the iconic address is often printed onto clothing and bags (most popularly, the Deauville).
CR Fashion Book
After Boy Capel gifted Coco a bouquet of camellias, it became her favorite type of flower. It is rumored that she loved camellias because they are unscented and, therefore, did not interfere with her Chanel No. 5 fragrance. Also, the camellia flower represents perfection (it is completely symmetric) and everlasting beauty (it blooms in winter, yet never loses its leaves), two ideals Coco worked hard for the house to embody.
In 1913, Coco began crafting camellia blossoms out of silk and pinning them to her lapels and hair. Over time, she also decorated her Rue Cambon studio with camellia-embellished furniture (most notably, her crystal chandelier and black and gold lacquered Coromandel screens).
Already serving as a major accent in Coco’s own life, camellias began appearing on Chanel pieces in 1923 (first, on a black chiffon dress), and have been used in almost every collection since (detailing the house’s buttons, jewelry, shoes, bags, clothing, and even packaging!).
Born August 19, under the astrological sign of the Leo, Coco Chanel strongly identified with the lion. She once admitted, “I am a Leo and, like a lion, I use my claws to prevent people from doing me harm, but, believe me, I suffer more from scratching than from being scratched.”
Providing her with feelings of strength and power, she adorned her Rue Cambon studio with wooden, silver, bronze, and alabaster lion statues. It is reported that she always kept one on a table next to the cigarettes and scissors, which she most frequently reached for.
In 1920, following the death of Boy Capel, Coco fled to Venice to grieve. Visiting Venice for the first time, the trip left quite an impression on her. Known as the city of the lion, Coco found solace in the winged statue in Saint Mark’s Square and healed her broken heart. Venice became her second home, where she would often return when she needed to retreat for an emotional uplifting.
Though the lion was important to Coco, it did not prominently appear in Chanel’s designs (save for some buttons and hemlines) until Karl Lagerfeld was appointed as the house’s creative director. To pay homage to Coco’s bold, adventurous personality, Lagerfeld created two jewelry collections, which were devoted to the lion: Sous le Signe du Lion (in 2012) and L’Esprit du Lion (in 2018). Both fine jewelry lines, he used diamonds, imperial topazes, beryls, and gold to represent her spirit animal. Lagerfeld also brought the lion front and center at his Fall 2010 Haute Couture show. He commissioned 30 artists to sculpt a 40-foot lion statue, which served as the runway’s centerpiece (the models appeared from a pearl beneath its front paw).
The lion, the most meaningful symbol to Coco, personifies the leading spirit of her as a designer and the house she established.
Starting at the convent, Coco began favoring the number five. Finding life there particularly regimented and difficult, Coco tried to distract herself. On her daily walk to attend prayer, she counted the stones in the path, which were set in groups of five. From that point on, the number five represented spirituality and purity for Coco.
Her inclination toward the number was further reinforced by the fact that she was a Leo, the fifth star sign in the circle.
Obsessed with numerology, Coco incorporated the number into the Chanel brand as much as possible. She picked the fifth sample for her perfume, sat on the fifth step to preview her fashion shows, owned five buildings on Rue Cambon, released her innovative shoulder bag in 1955, showed her collections on the fifth day of May (the fifth month) every year, and remained largely loyal to a scheme of five colors (black, white, red, gold, and beige).
Presently, Chanel is one of the most valuable luxury brands in the world (second to only Louis Vuitton), proving five must really have been Coco’s lucky number (or that she and her successors have worked tirelessly to maintain the house’s reputation for high quality, elegant, and fashionable pieces).
CR Fashion Book
Coco Chanel is undeniably one of the most powerful women in fashion. Without her iconic designs (and fierce, unwavering spirit), style would not be the same today. Chanel’s contributions have become staples – capsule pieces that no fashion-forward wardrobe is complete without. Half a century after her death, her legacy lives on. Her canon was carried on (and re-interpreted) by Karl Lagerfeld and will continue to be by Virginie Viard. As explained best by Coco herself, “Fashion changes, but style endures.”
While at the orphanage, the importance of cleanliness was impressed upon Coco. The scent of soap was something that she remembered long after she left. Bothered by the body odor of the wealthy she dressed, Coco decided to create a fragrance that captured the essence of freshly scrubbed skin. As explained by Coco, “Perfume is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion…that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure.”
While on vacation with a lover in Cote d’Azur, Coco learned of a perfumer who worked nearby in Grasse, the capital of the perfume industry. The perfumer, Ernest Beaux, agreed to help Coco develop a signature scent for Chanel. At the time, citrus was used to create the clean scent Coco wanted; however, it did not linger on the skin for very long. To artificially mimic the citrus, chemists developed aldehydes. It is reported that Chanel’s signature perfume was the result of a laboratory error; one of Beaux’s assistants accidentally used a high amount of aldehyde, a dose never experimented with before, in one of the samples. When Beaux presented Coco with the 10 samples his team had concocted, his assistant’s mistake was the fifth. Smelling of jasmine, rose, sandalwood, and vanilla, or the “scent of a woman”, Coco picked it and Chanel No. 5 (as once told to her by a fortune teller, 5 was also Coco’s lucky number) was born. Released in 1921, it was the first fragrance to bear the name of a designer.
In a bid to launch Chanel No. 5 in department stores, Coco brokered a deal with Pierre and Paul Wertheimer (brothers and businessmen who financed production of the perfume in mass quantities) and Théophile Bader (founder of the now-famous Galeries Lafayette) in 1924. It was decided that the Chanel name would remain on the bottle, but profits would be divided so the Wertheimers received 70%, Bader 20%, and Coco only 10%. Unhappy with her cut, Coco spent decades in court, repeatedly suing to increase her share. During WWII, she even tried to use her Nazi connections to void their contract. On the grounds that Jews were forbidden from owning businesses, Coco attempted to seize the majority of Parfums Chanel from the Wertheimers. They had, however, anticipated her move and were prepared. At the beginning of the war, they turned control of the company over to a Christian friend, who had agreed to return it back to them after. But, Coco was so adamant, that it is rumored the Wertheimers had to hire a lawyer just to handle her claims. To appease Coco and avoid a post-war PR nightmare, the Wertheimers agreed to re-negotiate the contract, giving her a share of the wartime profits and a higher percentage of future sales. (Today, all of Chanel is privately owned by the Wertheimer family.)
Chanel No. 5 was embroiled in conflict, but understandably so. It was loved not only by Coco (who had the staircase at Rue Cambon sprayed with it prior to her arrival every day), but also celebrities. In a 1952 interview for Life magazine, when Marilyn Monroe was asked what she wore to bed, she responded, “Just a few drops of Chanel No. 5.”
More recently, the Chanel No. 5 formula has come under threat. In 2014, the European Commission passed regulations aimed at protecting consumers from allergens, which required Chanel to adapt it to comply with the ban of citral, atranol, and chloroatranol. While in 2016, Chanel protested against the SNCF, France’s rail network, to prevent the construction of a line through its flower fields in Grasse (where it grows May rose and jasmine, two essential properties of the fragrance). To the delight of its loyal wearers, Chanel No. 5 has smelled the same through it all. Though, under Karl Lagerfeld, it has been reinterpreted into four new forms (an Eau de Toilette spray, an Eau de Parfum spray, an Eau Première version, and No. 5 L’Eau) and been fronted by many new faces (among them, his muses Nicole Kidman, Giselle Bündchen, and Lily-Rose Depp).
Over the years, Chanel No. 5 has generated massive revenue for the house, becoming one of the best-selling and most recognized fragrances in the world.
Coco Chanel was known for mixing menswear and womenswear, creating clothing that women would look elegant but feel comfortable in. Freeing them from the constraints of the corsets and ankle-length skirts that were customary during the pre-war period, Coco designed the first-ever suit for women. She introduced it in 1923, at a small show set in her Rue Cambon salon.
The pioneering suit was a two-piece set, including a slim skirt (that grazed just below the knees) and an unstructured, military-influenced jacket (that was detailed with four pockets, a braid trim, and jewelry-like buttons). Inspired by the sportswear of her then-boyfriend (the Duke of Westminster), which Coco often dressed in herself, she crafted the suit out of tweed. Though tweed was not considered a glamorous fabric at the time, Coco understood its versatility, combining it with other materials (at one point, even cellophane!) and producing it in a range of colors to make it more lightweight, feminine, and high fashion. It would go on to become the Chanel fabric.
Though the journalists that attended the viewing were less than impressed by Chanel’s suit (it was barely mentioned in their reviews), it has caught the attention of some of the world’s most influential women over time. Ina Claire, a famous actress, was the first to be pictured in it (in 1924), making it popular. Much later (in 1963), Jackie O. was wearing it (specifically, a pink design from Chanel’s Haute Couture Fall/Winter 1961 collection) when her husband, United States President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated, making it legendary.
Following Coco Chanel’s death (the designer herself was buried in her favorite beige and white iteration), several assistants kept the suit in production. When Karl Lagerfeld was appointed as Chanel’s creative director twelve years later, he retained the house’s trademark suit, altering it to reflect his personal aesthetic and shifting, seasonal trends. Most notably, Lagerfeld transformed it into all-denim in Fall/Winter 1991, a cropped jacket and miniskirt in Fall/Winter 2003, hot shorts in Spring/Summer 2011, and digitally printed fabric in Spring/Summer 2016.
During his 36-year tenure at Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld released a fresh, often daring version of the Chanel suit in every collection, all while staying true to Coco’s original idea that women should feel sophisticated and liberated when wearing it.
Following WWI and the Spanish flu, black became a color associated with mourning women (as many would wear it for up to four years after the death of a loved one!). While almost everyone was affected by the tragedies, losing one or multiple family members, Coco Chanel was not. With no family, she found it hard to relate to her female peers. That is, until 1919, when Boy Capel died suddenly and unexpectedly. Leaning into the trend and her sadness, she designed what is now known as the little black dress (or, LBD for short). Coco had always liked the color anyway, claiming that “black wipes out everything else around” and leaves its wearers with nothing to hide behind.
In 1926, Vogue printed a sketch of her dress and called it ‘Chanel’s Ford’, comparing it to the Model T and, hence, emphasizing its practicality, affordability, and broad appeal. A demure dress, constructed of crêpe de Chineand with long sleeves and a low-belted waist, Vogue correctly predicted that it would become “a sort of uniform for all women of taste.”
Since its debut, the LBD has become an essential piece of every woman’s wardrobe and has been re-imagined by seemingly every major fashion house and designer (beyond just Karl Lagerfeld and Virginie Viard for Chanel), notably: Dior in the ‘50s, Givenchy in the ‘60s, Vivienne Westwood in the ‘70s, Alaïa in the ‘80s, and Yamamoto in the ‘90s.
Until Chanel began designing jewelry, it was made of precious stones and metals, so only the wealthy could afford to own it. And, even then, it was so expensive that they could wear just one or two pieces at a time. Costume – or fake – jewelry was looked down upon and deemed suitable solely for those of the lower class.
Gifts from her admirers throughout the years, Coco Chanel owned an extensive collection of fine jewelry. However, because she felt it contrasted well with her minimalistic, neutral clothing designs, she always mixed her real and costume pieces, piling them around her neck and wrists in thick layers. To Coco, individual items of clothing were not as important as what they were accessorized with and how the total ‘Chanel look’ was styled. Coco became famous for her ropes and ropes of faux pearls, and her bold, flashy way of wearing jewelry quickly became the hot fashion trend.
Together with Duke Fulco di Verdura, Chanel released its first line of jewelry in 1927. Though Fulco designed textiles for the brand at the time, Coco discovered his talent and promoted him to head jewelry designer, which he served as for around eight years. Under Fulco, Chanel released its Maltese Cross Cuffs, two white enamel bangles that each featured a gemstone-filled cross, which were worn frequently by Coco and made available to the public in 1930. Ever since, the Maltese Cross has remained a motif of the house.
When Chanel re-opened following WWII, it resumed its production of jewelry with Robert Goossens. With past couture clients like Rochas, Schiaparelli, and Balenciaga, Goossens was already an established jeweler. He worked with Coco, designing costume jewelry for the house, past her death. In 2005, Chanel bought his company, making Goossens Paris part of its Métiers d’Art group of acquisitions and paying tribute to its craftsmanship in that specialty show every December.
Though Chanel specializes in costume jewelry, it briefly dabbled in fine jewelry in 1932, with a collection called the Bijoux de Diamants. It was not well-received, and Chanel did not venture into fine jewelry again until 1993, when it opened a boutique in Paris’s Palace Vendome and re-released its original collection in commemoration.
Today, Chanel honors its heritage and mostly sticks to costume jewelry.
Though Karl Lagerfeld is largely known for emblazoning Chanel’s jewelry with its signature ‘CC’ logo (his chunky gold necklaces and rhinestone earrings are by far the house’s bestsellers), he also introduced the lion. Born under the Leo star sign, Coco loved lions, featuring them on the buttons and hemlines of Chanel clothing, but never on jewelry. In 2012, in remembrance of her, Lagerfeld detailed Chanel jewelry with a lion for the first time. Later, in 2018, he dedicated an entire collection (called “L’Esprit du Lion”) to her spirit animal.
More recently, for her Fall/Winter 2020 collection, Virginie Viard pulled from Chanel’s very first jewelry collection, making the Maltese Cross a statement centerpiece on necklaces and belts.
In 1929, Coco designed her first bag out of quilted jersey (the same material that men’s undergarments were made of!). As it was customary for women to clutch their bags, it had two all-chain straps, which were just long enough for its carriers to grip or loop their wrists through.
Since its creation, the Chanel Flap Bag has been updated and re-named many times. This has resulted in a lot of misinformation about the style. If you want to consider yourself a Chanel expert, then you certainly need to be well-versed in the details of each. We have described every release to date, so you can learn more about one of the house’s most coveted designs and easily distinguish one from another (most commonly confused, the original 2.55 and the Reissue, as well as the Double Flap and the Single Flap).
Finding it cumbersome and tiring of always having to search for her bag, Coco decided to elongate the straps on her first design. In February 1955, she introduced the 2.55 (it was named for the month and year of its release), the first bag that featured shoulder-length straps. Though this does not seem like much now, it was a revolutionary move at the time, making it acceptable for upper class women to carry their belongings hands-free. The 2.55 retailed at just $220 – shockingly low, considering the rising cost of Chanel Flap Bags today.
In designing the 2.55, Coco included many details that held meaningful significance for her.
Its groundbreaking straps resemble the nuns’ chains, which they used to hold their keys, at the Aubazine orphanage where Coco was raised. Though the straps were originally all-chain, Coco wove them with leather when resources were scarce during the Vietnam War.
Its exterior leather (calf or lamb skin) is quilted to look like the jackets Coco’s equestrian friends wore. Do not forget that Boy Capel, an accomplished polo player, was her one true love.
On the back of the 2.55, Coco stitched an exterior slip pocket. Reminiscent of Mona Lisa’s slight smile, a favorite painting of hers, it is subtly curved. The pocket was styled to blend in with the body of the bag, as Coco used it to carry her loose cash and change for tipping.
The 2.55 secures with a rectangular, twist lock. Since Coco never married and had a husband, it has been dubbed the Mademoiselle.
For extra security, the 2.55 has two flaps. The larger exterior flap features a discreet zipper pocket. Because Coco was almost always in a torrid affair, it is rumored that she included this pocket in order to hide her secret love letters. The smaller interior flap unsnaps to reveal a slip pocket on the front of the bag.
The interior of every 2.55 is lined with burgundy leather and stitched with three slip pockets. The leather is the exact shade of the uniform Coco wore at the orphanage; the middle pocket is perfectly sized to hold a tube of lipstick (preferably, the rouge color that became synonymous with Coco’s pout).
Inside and out, the 2.55 tells the story of Coco’s life and establishes the heritage of the Chanel brand.
When Karl Lagerfeld was designated the creative director at Chanel, he re-styled Coco’s original 2.55, re-releasing it as the Double Flap Bag. Though most of its details are the same, it has some distinguishing features.
It is hard to imagine a Chanel Flap Bag without the brand’s ‘CC’ logo lock; however, it was not added until 1984, when Lagerfeld replaced the Mademoiselle lock with it. This branded the Flap Bag for the first time, making it more recognizably Chanel. All Double Flap Bags close with Lagerfeld’s ‘CC’ logo lock.
Though leather was only used for the straps of the 2.55 to make up for a lack of available materials, Lagerfeld decided that all Double Flap Bags should feature woven straps. Each has chain straps, which have wider links with leather strips strung through.
Just like the 2.55, the Double Flap Bag always has two flaps. However, in the ‘90s, Lagerfeld did release a version with only one. Aptly named the Single Flap Bag, the smaller interior flap has been removed from this style. Because of this, it has a sleeker silhouette and is more lightweight. Production of the Single Flap Bag was discontinued in 2014.
The Double Flap Bag has been available in seven sizes (Extra Mini at 17 x 10 cm, Mini Rectangular at 20 x 12 cm, Mini Square at 17 x 14 cm, Small at 24 x 15 cm, Medium at 25 x 16 cm, Jumbo at 30 x 20 cm, and Maxi at 33 x 23 cm).
Traditionally, the Double Flap Bag is crafted of black lamb or calf skin, which is accented by gold hardware and burgundy interior lining; however, over the years, it has been released in a variety of colors, materials, and hardware finishes. In the Cruise, Resort, and Métiers d’Art collections in particular, Lagerfeld has released some rare, special edition styles.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 2.55, Karl Lagerfeld re-issued it in February 2005. Keeping it as close to Coco’s original design as possible, he re-incorporated the Mademoiselle lock (this time with CHANEL engraved on it) and all-chain straps and produced it in only the double flap style. It was available in five sizes (224 at 20 x 13 cm, 225 at 24 x 15 cm, 226 at 28 x 18 cm, 227 at 31 x 20 cm, and 228 at 34 x 20 cm) and three calf skin colorways (black with gold hardware, gray with silver hardware, and white with silver hardware).
Chanel Flap Bags that resemble the 2.55 are often incorrectly referred to as Reissues. Reissues are only those that were made in 2005. To distinguish a Reissue from the rest, open it up; its innermost flap should have 2.55-2005 stitched between the ‘CC’ logo.
In his Fall/Winter 2011 collection, Karl Lagerfeld debuted an entirely new Chanel Flap Bag. Named the Boy Bag, to commemorate Coco’s nine-year love affair with Arthur “Boy” Capel and her masculine sense of style, it has much edgier detailing. It features one full-length flap, straight stitching along its seams, diamond quilting at the center of its body, a ‘CC’ logo brick clasp, a thicker chain strap (referred to as the Bijoux), a fabric-lined interior, and one interior slip pocket.
Since its initial release, the Boy Bag has been offered in seven sizes (Mini at 15 x 10 cm, Small at 20 x 12 cm, Old Medium at 25 x 15 cm, New Medium at 28 x 18 cm, Large at 30 x 21 cm, New Boy Regular at 19 x 16 cm, and New Boy Large at 25 x 20 cm). Because of its popularity, it has also been released in a variety of colors, materials, stitching patterns, and hardware finishes.
All Images by Chanel
With the help of Virginie Viard, Karl Lagerfeld designed another fresh take on the Chanel Flap Bag. Launched on the Fall/Winter 2019 runway, Lagerfeld’s final collection for the house, they called it the 19 Bag (an ode to the way the 2.55 was named and Coco’s August 19th birthday). It features all Chanel’s signature codes but, this time, they have been sized way up. The 19 Bag is detailed with maxi diamond quilting, an enlarged, ornate ‘CC’ logo lock, a curb chain that passes from silver to aged gold to ruthenium finishes, an extra chain to function as a top handle, one exterior flap, and an interior zipper pocket.
Currently, it is available in four sizes (Regular at 26 x 16 cm, Large at 30 x 20 cm, Maxi at 36 x 24 cm, and Waist at 11 x 20 cm) and only select materials (goat skin and tweed); though, everyone is already anticipating Viard’s seasonal updates.
All Images by Chanel
Photo by Christian Vierig/Getty Images
Chanel has become one of the most expensive brands in the luxury market. Every year (sometimes as often as every few months), Chanel increases its prices by 2-10%. Over time, this adds up quickly, significantly inflating the cost of many popular styles. In 10 years, the rate of the Jumbo Double Flap Bag in Caviar leather has increased by 139% (from $2,675 to $6,400); since it debuted in 2012, the rate of the Medium Boy Bag has increased by 56% (from $3,200 to $5,000).
As a result, many collectors are now shopping resale, hoping to score their dream Chanel bag at a more affordable price. This has, unfortunately, contributed to a rise in super fakes. With the potential for higher profits, counterfeiters have increased the quality of their materials and improved their craftsmanship, creating knock-off Chanel bags that look so genuine, even experts can have a difficult time telling them apart.
At The Vintage Bar, we have a team of master authenticators, who work to ensure that you feel comfortable as you shop pre-loved luxury. But, do you want insider access to our process, so you can learn how to authenticate Chanel bags for yourself? Because pre-loved Chanel bags are still costly investment pieces and you should be able to make your purchase with complete confidence, we have detailed our authentication process for you. Flap Bags are the most popular Chanel style sold secondhand, so our authentication guide focuses specifically on them. Just answer each question we ask, and you will be able to determine whether a Chanel Flap Bag is original or counterfeit.
Since many Flap Bag features are house signatures, sections of this guide can be used to authenticate almost any Chanel bag. To get even more authentication help, check out our other style specific guides.
Photo by Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images
Inspired by stable fashion, quilting (iconically diamond, but also square or chevron) has been a Chanel code since 1929, when Coco crafted the house’s first Flap Bag. The exterior of almost every Chanel style is quilted; though, it is most common on Flap Bags (2.55, Double Flap Bag, Single Flap Bag, Reissue, Boy Bag, and 19). Because it provides the house’s signature look, making its bags recognizably Chanel, the quilting is always meticulously stitched. No matter how vintage the bag, the quilted pattern should remain intact. When taking a closer look at the quilting on a Chanel bag, ask yourself these questions:
To keep the quilting from looking puffy, Chanel uses a high number of stitches per panel (one side of the diamond). Each individual stitch should be precisely the same length. Because every Chanel bag is subjected to scrupulous quality control, it is highly unusual for any stitches to come loose over time. When counting the stitching on a Chanel bag, ask yourself this question:
In the ‘80s, Karl Lagerfeld re-introduced leather to the chain straps, threading a strip through them as Coco did when there was a shortage of materials during the war. Ever since, this has become synonymous with Chanel. Depending on the size and style of the bag, the leather strip is folded in four different ways:
When determining what technique was used on the leather in a Chanel bag’s chain straps, ask yourself these questions:
In 1984, Chanel started issuing serial numbers. Serial numbers are unique to each Chanel bag, indicating its year of manufacture and model.
Since serial numbers were first used, Chanel has changed their format. To start, serial numbers were six or seven digits long and, beginning with 0, 1, or 2, the first digit indicated the year. Now, they are eight digits long and, beginning with 10, the first two digits indicate the year. Because of this, Chanel serial numbers are often referred to as ‘series.’
A bag’s serial number is printed on a white rectangular sticker, which can be located inside the bag. The sticker will either be attached to a leather tab or directly to the interior lining (either within a pocket or near a corner along the bottom seam). In effort to prevent the stickers from being removed and transferred to another bag, Chanel changes the style of them often.
When deciphering a Chanel bag’s serial number, reference the above table and ask yourself these questions:
Though the ‘CC’ logo lock did not appear until 1984, when Karl Lagerfeld added it as a modern update to the 2.55, it is now a key feature in the process of authenticating a Chanel Flap Bag. When inspecting a bag’s ‘CC’ lock (only the Double and Single Flap Bags have it in its original form), ask yourself these questions:
Chanel pays just as close attention to the interior of its bags, using high quality leather to line most. In vintage Flap Bags, it is burgundy (as a nod to the uniform Coco wore at the orphanage in Aubazine); while, in more recent releases, it matches the exterior color of the Flap Bag. When feeling the leather lining in a Chanel bag, ask yourself this question:
Though popularized by Karl Lagerfeld, the ‘CC’ logo was originally created by Coco. While some think it most obviously stands for Coco Chanel, others speculate that one ‘C’ represents Capel and the other Chanel, joining the lovers together for eternity.
The Chanel emblem is stitched inside every 2.55, Double Flap Bag, and Reissue. It can be found just below the snap on the smaller interior flap. When scrutinizing this ‘CC’ logo, ask yourself these questions:
The interior of every Chanel style is embossed with the brand’s name. Referred to as the brand (or logo) stamp, it can be found either directly on the lining or on a leather patch. The brand stamp is in all capital letters, including the brand name, a registered trademark, and the country the bag was produced in. It will read:
MADE IN FRANCE or MADE IN ITALY
When studying the brand stamp on a Chanel bag, ask yourself these questions:
Throughout the years, Chanel has used zippers from a variety of manufacturers (including, its own that are branded with ‘CHANEL’ or the ‘CC’ logo). As Chanel changes manufacturers quite frequently and without direct notice, it is not possible to specify a precise range of years each has been in use; however, general time periods are known and should be consistent with the year indicated on the bag’s serial number. The manufacturer’s name can be found on the zipper pull or the back of the slider. When examining the zippers on a Chanel bag, ask yourself these questions:
Every Chanel Flap Bag is turned out upon completion, leaving them with subtly rounded (almost square corners). When placed down, all four corners should rest on the surface. Using only the finest materials, Chanel Flap Bags should maintain their structure forever. When assessing the shape of a Chanel bag, ask yourself these questions:
Chanel introduced authenticity cards at the same time as serial numbers. Each bag is accompanied by an authenticity card, which not only ensures that it is a genuine Chanel, but also that it meets the house’s quality standards and carries on its fine reputation. As they can be easily replicated, the presence of an authenticity card does not definitively prove a bag is an original Chanel. On the contrary, as they can be easily lost, the absence of an authenticity card does not definitively prove a bag is a knock-off Chanel. Despite this, they do add to the value of a Chanel bag and are, thus, an important part of the authentication process. Just like the bags they come with, Chanel authenticity cards include specific details that are unique to the brand. When referencing a Chanel authenticity card, ask yourself these questions:
The Boy Bag, launched by Karl Lagerfeld in 2011, was the first complete re-design of the Flap Bag. In true Lagerfeld style, the Boy Bag honors Coco’s original 2.55, including many of the house’s iconic codes, while also introducing some more modern updates. When authenticating a Boy Flap Bag, most of the above questions should still be answered; however, you should also ask yourself these new ones, which are specific to the style:
Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
Notice that, following all of our questions, we answer that the bag only might be an authentic Chanel. In order to make our rigorous authentication process easier to understand and less daunting, we have separated it into parts; however, in the end, all the parts of a bag must be taken into consideration together. A bag cannot be judged as (un)authentic based on one single component. With Chanel, this is especially true, as its bags are handmade and, therefore, minor variations are not uncommon. Take every element into account before declaring whether the bag is a true Chanel or not.
Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
You should always shop through a trusted reseller, one that provides an authenticity guarantee and accepts returns. But, even then, it is best to do your research and take your time. If a secondhand Chanel seems like an unbelievable find, it most likely is. Trust your instincts!
Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
Though this guide covers everything you need to know to become a Chanel expert, we have written some extra articles for those of you who want to know even more. Read them to calculate exactly how much the price of your favorite bag has increased, to figure out who actually owns the house, to spot a fake Chanel bag within just minutes, to study more style specific authenticity guides, to discover the off-season runways, and to hunt the rarest vanity bags to add to your collection.
Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images